'Jeeeeeezuz Christ!'

Democrats in '98: the agony, the ecstasy, the scabs

Orange county never looked so red. By early Wednesday morning, it was clear that in several of the county's hottest races, Republicans had choked, Democrats had won, and as Robert K. Dornan told anyone who would listen throughout election night, a "fog of evil" has descended upon America. Dornan would know something about fog. And evil. He was hanging out with Republicans at the Sutton Place Hotel in Newport Beach. While a band there cranked out a funkless version of Wild Cherry's "Play that Funky Music White Boy," men looking like slabs of ham (mmmmm . . . ham) stuffed into dark suits searched for scapegoats to explain their losses nationwide, statewide, countywide, doublewide. Over at the Disneyland Hotel's Grand Ballroom, Democrats weren't so much celebratory as thunderstruck, looking like a bunch of Lyle Lovetts waking up next to Julia Roberts. Asked how this gathering compared with previous confabs, longtime Democratic activist Mitchell Freedman observed that this was "the most contented" he'd ever seen the Dems. "They're still trying to let it sink in."

One thing that didn't need time for sinking was Democratic chieftain Jeannie Costales' death screech. Whether it was announcing that the floor was open for dancing or that state Senate candidate Joe Dunn had pulled ahead of Republican Robb Hurtt, Costales' voice was like a hatpin driven through the tympanic membrane. As another longtime Democratic activist observed: "Jeeeeeezuz Christ! Make her stop!"

Nobody wanted the union guys to stop. Because of a technical workers strike at Disney-owned ABC, KABC sent out scab camera crews to cover the Democrats. Big mistake. When OC Central Labor Council head Bill Fogarty took the podium, he screamed out Teamster-style, "I want you to see what a lousy, stinking scab looks like, and he's right over there! Scabs, get the hell out!" He then started up a chant-"Scabs, go home!"-that seemed right out of the Haymarket Massacre. Hotel officials took it seriously: the camera crew spent the rest of the evening surrounded by eight Disney security guards.

"Here we are at the Happiest Place on Earth!" said incumbent Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez who had just arrived with her husband (the Siegfried to her Roy) from the far happier eleventh floor. By evening's end, it was clear she had clobbered Dornan, and her speech sounded like some kind of political necrophilia (mmmm . . . necrophilia). Forget the niceties about "pulling together" you might have heard from the lips of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gray Davis (who won), Republican candidate Dan Lungren (who lost) or virtually any other major party candidate who won or lost this week: Sanchez hates Dornan, and she spared no euphemism, essentially dismissing him as a vindictive hack. "His family needs to find another line of work," she concluded. Some Democrats at the hotel worry that it's Sanchez who'll be finding another line of work-as a Republican congresswoman. It wasn't so much anything the former Republican said as a sense some Democrats have that the party has taken her as far as it can.

The cheering for Sanchez was loud but perfunctory. The passionate applause was for new state Senator Dunn and new Assemblyman Lou Correa. The two pulled off upset victories over well-funded Republican incumbents, who (gathered in Newport Beach) had to be thinking: if money, sex and fear can't buy elections, the Republic is in trouble.

Other signs of the apocalypse: Donald P. Wagner and Nancy Padberg will join Steven Frogue on the South Orange County Community College District board of trustees. Wagner and Padberg were backed by the anti-union, Christian Right Education Alliance and by the district's anti-union teachers union (sadly, you read that right). No comment from the two on whether they'll make trustees meetings more accessible-ties optional, but anyone not wearing a brown shirt gets 30 days in ze coohlah! Schultz! Incumbent Supervisor Jim "The Body" Silva slipped to victory like a man on a well-greased pole (mmmm . . . grease). His opponent, the otherwise likeable Dave Sullivan, may have erred in making Silva's immorality-rather than his brainlessness-an issue. But we have few complaints: in the days before Nov. 3, Sullivan supporters reprinted and distributed throughout the district 100,000 copies of our cover story on Silva ("If He Only Had a Brain"). Thanks for the assist.

Thanks to the initiative-and-referendum process, you still can't sell Mr. Ed for human consumption (Proposition 6), but you can continue to trap and kill small animals if you do it in a nice way (Proposition 4); you can sabotage the state's two major political parties (Proposition 3), but you can't make the electric utilities pay for their own lousy investments in nuclear-power plants (Proposition 9); you can continue to pollute the air, but we won't pay you to stop (Proposition 7). Thanks to Proposition 10, every time you light up, you'll be furthering the cause of children's health and special education-but not public education, which was almost fatally undermined by 1978's Proposition 13, the curse of which will now be extended by Proposition 2, which is why you'll have to pay off a $9.2 billion bond to correct years of Republican neglect (Proposition 1A) and why you decided to let property-tax-starved cities share sales-tax revenue (Proposition 11). Of course, you won't have to pay a nickle for Pete Wilson's education czar (Proposition 8), which will leave more money to play the slots at the Pechanga casino, just minutes off I-15 and Highway 79 south (don't miss Pam Tillis on Nov. 27) (Proposition 5). And because of Proposition 2, the taxes you pay for transportation will actually go to transportation!

There was more good news for Democrats: Tom Daly crushed Republican challenger Bob Zemel for the mayor's seat in Anaheim, despite a Matterhorn of money from the state GOP. Larry Agran, who bolted the Democratic Party in disgust, is back on the Irvine City Council. Ted Moreno proved how difficult it is to run for mayor of Santa Ana while under federal investigation for soliciting bribes, losing badly to incumbent mayor Miguel Pulido. And Orange County's No. 1 Scariest Person-Gloria "Whatsa" Matta Tuchman-fell victim to bad publicity, common sense and Delaine Eastin in the statewide race for superintendent of public instruction. But even Tuchman performed better than Curt Pringle in his run for state treasurer. Only one Republican runing for a statewide office (nearly anonymous San Mateo County Supervisor Ruben Barrales) ran worse in Orange County than Pringle, who received just 54 percent of his neighbors' votes.

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